I want to thank Pastor Young for allowing Coach Munchak and me to speak at this service. Susie and Amy, I am honored that you asked me to say a few words about your father today. Finally, I want to thank Commissioner Goodell for allowing me to represent the NFL here and reminisce about one of the most beloved members of our football family.
My name is Joe Browne. One of my few claims-to-fame in my professional life is that I am the longest serving employee ever at the NFL headquarters in New York. I started as a college intern in 1965 in the NFL Commissioner’s Office at a time when K.S. Bud Adams was one of our fiercest—and most successful—football adversaries.
Those were the days of the upstart American Football League, founded by the late Lamar Hunt and Bud in 1959, in direct competition with our traditional NFL for everything from team markets to network television contracts to, of course, acquiring the best football players.
Lamar Hunt (and his widow Norma and son Clarke are here today) is acknowledged as the father of the AFL, and rightfully so. However, not too many years ago, I asked Lamar if there was another owner with him from the early days even before the AFL bought its first footballs. Without hesitation, Lamar said “Bud”…“without him, it would have almost impossible to have founded the league.” I recounted that conversation to Bud a few months later, thinking I would play to his modest ego.
“Of course he said that,” Bud responded quickly. “I was the one with the private plane. If it weren’t for me, Lamar would have been trying to start a brand new football league by driving rental cars all around the country…and changing planes in Atlanta.”
He beamed at the thought. However, it was far from the truth. Yes, Bud did have the plane but he also was one of the brightest, most competitive visionaries that pro football—actually all of pro sports—ever had.
Bud enjoyed—was particularly good at—competing for players. He knew that signing players and getting them to play to their fullest was what the game was all about.
Bud also knew that to draw fans to the games he probably needed pom poms and cheerleaders (yes, Bud did like cheerleaders) but the key component was the players– and coaches like Mike Munchak– who got the most out of them.
Before the Oilers played their first AFL game, Bud signed the new Heisman Trophy winner from LSU– running back Billy Cannon. Bud, in his typical understated style in those days, had Cannon sign the contract on the field under the goal posts at the conclusion of the 1960 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. He beat out the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams– and their young general manager at the time Pete Rozelle—who also were eager for Cannon’s services. Pete Rozelle only weeks later became the NFL Commissioner and held that post for nearly 30 years.
I worked for Pete in New York for more than two decades and Bud knew my loyalty toward him.
He would take great delight years later in needling me: “Has your Commissioner Rozelle talked to his friend Billy Cannon lately?”’ He would ask me with a grin. Bud was very proud of that signing.
As we know, Bud was not only competitive throughout his sports career, he also was as street smart as any Oklahoma native can be. He also was ahead of his time when it came to diversity on the football field and in the front office. In 1984, at a time when many were questioning whether African American quarterbacks could make it in our league, Bud outbid teams in both the Canadian League and the NFL and signed future Hall of Famer Warren Moon.
A few years later, the Oilers went to training camp with not only Warren at QB but two other African Americans behind him at that same position. It was first time ever there were three African American quarterbacks on the same NFL team. Bud didn’t see black or white… winning was what was important.
In the small world that is sports, Bud later became one of Commissioner Rozelle’s most loyal supporters, the same Rozelle who he outhustled for Billy Cannon in 1960. Likewise, Rozelle during that time knew he could count on Bud either for an important vote in a league meeting or to serve on owner working groups including the finance, legislative and Pro Football Hall of Fame committees.
I realize there was so much more to Bud Adams than just football. That perhaps was his most visible, public side but it only scratches the surface of his professional and personal achievements. Adams resources and energy, car dealerships, cattle ranching, southwestern art and artifacts, General Custer’s footlocker, fruit farming …the list goes and on and on.
Back a dozen years ago, the league was on trial in Los Angeles and opposing counsel tried to make the point that many teams wanted to move to LA but the league blocked the moves. Bud was deposed for the trial like many other owners. The other side tried to incite the Los Angeles jury by reading a portion of Bud’s deposition in which he said “I would never move my team to California; it’s the land of fruits and nuts out there.”
The jury had a mixed reaction to that quote; some gasped while other laughed. When I called Bud that night back here in Houston to tell him how his quote was used against us in the courtroom, he said: “It is full of fruits and nuts, Joe. I should know. I have cashew and walnut farms in northern California, I am producing organic rice in the central part, and I have 30 thousand acres of lettuce growing in the southern part of the state.”
By the tone of his voice, I knew he wasn’t kidding.
Just like Bud’s business enterprises knew no bounds, the same was true for his generosity to the community:
Whether it was to assist flood or hurricane relief here in Houston…large donations to his beloved Cherokee Indian National Historical Society…scholarships at his alma maters—Culver Military Academy and University of Kansas…his many financial gifts to support our country’s military, including at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky.
Bud was always there for people in need. The NFL established a new award 18 months ago for clubs and owners who showed extraordinary support of our troops. Bud was the unanimous choice for that initial honor announced at the Super Bowl. When the TV Network showed his stadium suite to a national audience, Bud wasn’t there but….instead there were two dozen wounded warriors watching the game as his personal guests. That was Bud!
There’s only one member of the AFL’s self-proclaimed foolish club left in the league—that’s Ralph Wilson, the first and only owner of the Buffalo Bills. Those pioneer AFL owners—Lamar, Bud, Ralph—called themselves the foolish club because they were foolish enough to take on the mighty NFL in 1959. They did pretty well.
Finally, we in the NFL were lucky to have Bud Adams for so many decades. He made the league that much better simply by raising the standards for other clubs to match.
Bud, we already miss you.
Please give our love to your beloved Nancy!